The Dorset walk 1 – Broadmayne, Whitcombe, West Knighton
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold touch on William Barnes country
Published in August ’14
If your taste runs only to spectacular hills and endless vistas, this may not be the walk for you. But Dorset can provide such a huge range of landscapes and here we are in one of wide, gently undulating fields, big skies, attractive copses and spinneys, and hedgerows bursting with the plenty of summer.
Whitcombe is the smallest settlement on the route but is notable for two reasons. First, it is home to Dorset’s largest racing stables, built in the 1980s by property developer Peter Bolton. The stables have had a chequered history: there has been a rapid turnover of trainers and long periods when no racehorses were under training, but it was Toby Balding’s base when he turned out Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Cool Ground in 1992. Second, the poet-parson William Barnes took services here from 1847 to 1885 when he had the living at nearby Came. Now redundant, the church has some notable medieval wall paintings, including one of a mermaid combing her hair.
Broadmayne is famous for having been where the notorious highwayman, Bill Watch, who preyed on the London to Weymouth coaching route, stabled his horses. The tower of St Martin’s church was built over two centuries, starting in the 13th. The church was heavily restored in the 19th century by John Hicks, with Thomas Hardy as his assistant.
At St Peter’s in West Knighton, however, Hardy had sole charge of the restoration, having been invited to take it on by the then rector, who footed the bill himself. Hardy replaced the gallery, which is a feature of the church, and restored and added windows. This happened in 1893, while Hardy was writing Jude the Obscure, whose eponymous hero is a stonemason, and there are definite echoes of features in St Peter’s in churches that feature in the novel. After the church, the most interesting building in the village is the Victorian school, which the walk passes.
Distance: About 6 miles
Terrain: Tracks and field-paths that are mostly dry underfoot except in extreme conditions. Mostly gentle gradients.
Start: Park carefully on the main road through Broadmayne, near the cross-roads in the centre of the village. OS reference SY730866. Postcode DT2 8EB.
How to get there: Broadmayne is on the A352, about 3 miles east of Dorchester and 7 miles west of Wool.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset), OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Black Dog at Broadmayne; the New Inn at West Knighton.
1 Walk in a westerly direction – towards Dorchester – and pass St Martin’s on the right. About 130 yards past the church, turn left into Rectory Road and first right into Conway Drive. At the end of the road, turn left on a track and in forty yards fork left onto a footpath. Go through a gate and bear slightly right, heading for a gap in the trees on the right-hand edge of the field. Go through the gap and follow the trees on the left to about 80 yards before some farm buildings.
2 Here go through a gate on the right and cross to a gate about 60 yards up from the far left-hand corner. Go through it and turn right on a grassy track which leads into a field. Continue up the right-hand edge, turn left at the first corner and then right through the first gate. Turn left for about 60 yards, then right to pick up a hedgerow on the left. Follow this down to an opening, beyond which turn right. At the top of a slope in about 650 yards, turn left on a wide ride which leads to two open fields. Go into the right-hand one and follow its left-hand edge. In the first corner cross a gallop and continue ahead with a small belt of woodland on the left.
3 Cross a lane on a slight left-right dog-leg and walk straight up the other side of the valley, over the brow of the field. Go through a gate on the far side, walk across the corner of the field beyond and turn left to follow its right-hand edge. At the end, turn right on a track which leads up past a small wood on the left. At a T-junction of tracks, turn right and continue for about 650 yards, towards the end of which the back of Came House can be seen peeping over a rise on the left.
4 Where the track bends to the left between a house and an open barn, continue straight ahead onto the grass, turn immediately right into a field and left to follow its left-hand edge right, right again to pass an old chalk pit, and left to go through the wood at the top of the hill. Fork left in the wood to reach a gate, cross a wide grassy ride and go through another gate before heading downhill, straight towards the buildings of Whitcombe. At the main road, turn left and walk up the verge past a magnificent thatched tithe barn and the church. Just beyond the field next to the church and the back of the Whitcombe village sign, turn right through a gate and right again immediately after the next gate to follow the right-hand hedgerow with the buildings of Whitcombe beyond it.
5 Alongside the far end of the buildings, go through a gate and turn left along a path with a large paddock on the right. Continue ahead along the left-hand edge of the next field. In the first corner go through an opening on the left, turn immediately right and follow the right-hand edge of three fields to a lane. Turn right and walk through West Knighton, passing the New Inn and, having followed the road round to the right at Smithy Cottage, the church of St Peter. At the T-junction bear left and in 75 yards turn right into the left-hand of two fields.
6 Cross it diagonally to a stile in the left-hand edge, close to where two lines of power cables meet. Bear slightly right in the next field to go under one of the power lines, over the brow of the field and down a gentle slope on the other side. There comes into view to the left a double stile in the middle of the bottom hedge of a paddock. Head for it and walk up the paddock to a kissing-gate just to the right of the top left-hand corner. Continue ahead with the church on the right and church hall on the left to reach the road through Broadmayne. Turn left to reach your car. ◗